ARTISTIC LEGACIES is TransLash Media’s 3-part series honoring Black Trans Femmes in the Arts (BTFA) Collective. On June 14, 2023, TransLash held a screening event and reception in New York for BTFA Collective and their guests, followed by a Q&A session for attendees. Watch below and access the transcript.
ABOUT ‘ARTISTIC LEGACIES’
The series explores the power of the BTFA Collective through the stories of Founder Jordyn Jay, musician and songwriter Iman Hill, and ballroom legend Kimiyah Prescott. The docuseries shares how these members use artistic expression to change themselves and the world around them, bringing hope to the most marginalized of the marginalized at a time of unprecedented violence and political attack. Artistic Legacies points to how we can create brighter futures by using what’s already inside each of us and the 200-strong BTFA demonstrates how to manifest these possibilities.
Watch all three Artistic Legacies short films and learn more about BTFA Collective: www.translash.org/blacktransfemmes
Imara Jones: So my first question is, what is it like to see your life on stage? I know for me it’s always a totally different experience, even if I’ve seen, if I’ve been, I’ve been a part of it the entire time, the
process, the entire time. But then actually seeing your life on film, I’m wondering, and hearing your
voice and seeing your words and seeing your friends through another lens. I’m wondering what that experience is like for you tonight?
Jordyn: For me, it was really different. I’m like, normally behind the scenes I produce for BTFA, and even when we do like campaigns, yeah, just, I do the voiceover, but I’m always in control of like what exactly what gets chosen, what’s said. So seeing something like this was really different, but it was just like a great reminder of kind of everything that has led to this moment
Kimiyah: For me. How can I say this? I’m, I’m gonna be honest. I’m gonna say I’m not surprised, but I just didn’t know it would go this way. I was always determined when I was young that when I got into a ballroom that this was gonna be a stepping stone for me and that this was going to bring me to where I really wanted to go. And that was really to be on stage, really to be seen and really to be, you know, heard by a lot of people.
But I just didn’t know that it was going to, just, the, the journey was gonna be like this. And I’m not saying that, like I knew that the journey was gonna be easy, but the stuff that I had to go through to get to this point was just like mind blowing. And I’m just like, just looking at it. I could just sit there and say, I’m only blessed. Because a lot of people they see, like, they see the glitz and glams of things, they see those parts and they’re like, wow, like I wish I could really be where you are.
But honestly, just to know like the sacrifice behind it and what you, what we had to do, and anybody that’s going through this life has like had to do to get to that point of, of their success, that stage.
You know, it’s really a blessing. So yeah.
Iman: For me, I can, I can agree with both of them, particularly as I observe Kimiya’s story and just seeing how, or listening rather to how she basically, like there’s all of these detours that we make and these concessions that we make to be who we are. So I remember, even with myself, I remember I going to Walmart and Target and mopping like a whole bunch of makeup and, and putting on the makeup and, and, and, and, and going to school proudly, like trying to mind you wearing makeup foundation that was like three shades lighter than my, than my, like I was just like,
like, and looking fierce, but like, also, also, but exploring.
But feeling like that was a very, that was a very internal journey that nobody else was on but me at that time. And having to hide from my mother. And when the garage door came up, having to like, just knowing that like, okay, all of this gay sh check it on ’cause she can ready to come upstairs and just you, and just having to do that over and over again every day. To the point where I got caught and I’m like, oh my god.
Like, people oftentimes don’t know the journeys that we make.
And hearing that affirm to me that, you know, we’re not the only ones.
And when we talk about seeing myself on screen and seeing my my peers on screen, you all get to see the, essentially the finished product.
But we are oftentimes replaying those moments back in our head. Like, we would never get here. Or it would be so far beyond, I thought I would be 30, 40, you know what I’m saying?
Like, if God willing, seeing anything about me on screen, not knowing that I would find a community
that would be such a catalyst and a liaison for my success and just my, my, my authenticity
and my self-expression. And I, I couldn’t have done it without BTFA, especially when it come pertains
to this period of my life. I really do have to thank BTFA. And of course you Imara and your team for being able to put this on for us because this is such a blessing to be able to see myself and Little Iman, which I, I don’t mind sharing this, but like, my given name is Jordan, so it’s always funny when
I’m in a room with Jordyn ’cause I’m like, are people talking about me?
Like, do they know something that I don’t know, but like, it’s always funny seeing myself ’cause it’s like little Iman, little Jordan or whatever you wanna call it, would be so proud and would think that I’m the coolest person in the world.
Imara: Yeah, it’s really wild how affirming our stories can be to ourselves. ’cause you’re living life, you’re, you’re not, you’re living life. You’re not perceiving what you’re doing or how you’re putting it
together or what it means. And then to see it presented to you as no, this is who you are and what you’re doing.
I think it can be revolutionary. I think storytelling is really powerful for all of you.All the arts though, has, is building your lifeline in your life.
You know, musical theater. Legendary, not legendary. Ballroom dancer, you rapper music. Extraordinary. Told me the other day, I’m not rapping anymore. I’m doing something outta the kinda music. I’m like, okay, so we’re gonna be moving on. We gotta update the movie at some point.
But like, for all of you all, like art is the, is the, is a thing that’s pulled you through.
And I’m wondering if you all what your reflections are on that.
Like, do you recognize that in your life?
Like, you know, how do you, how do you see the way that art has been the thing that’s helped you become who you are?
Jordyn: I, there’s so many moments that I felt like art was a place for gender affirmation for me before I even knew where I fit in, in the gender spectrum or world. Like, I remember being in
chorus in the seventh grade and I had this little high voice and the lead soprano from high school from the choir was missing. And they were like, you need to sing “No one mourns the wicked,” the high part. And I did it and I carried and everyone was like, what is going, who is this little boy
singing the soprano part?
And like, throughout my artistic career, going from a performing arts high school to studying drama NYU and then leaving that to do other things with art and politics, it’s always been this place where the parts of me that I felt like I couldn’t show to the world, I couldn’t show to my family.
They were accepted and praised, like I was adored for being able to do more feminine roles and to, I even did like a scene in high school where I played a transgender woman not knowing that that would become my destiny.
So there was a lot of foreshadowing through the arts for me and just a lot of freedom to explore,
Kimiyah: Honestly think for me, when it came to the art of voguing, it definitely, it definitely was something that helped me cope, helped me cope with a lot, helped me to, helped me cope with a lot
of hurt, A lot of just a lot of things that, you know, me as at the time, a, a a, a gay boy and now being a trans woman now it’s like you go through so much.
Like I wasn’t really accepted in my family. Like, I was called down from singing, singing in church because somebody in the church just wanted to just be that type of person to be like, oh, just out me and stuff like that. And then even into my trans life, you know, would I have to just deal with, with people like my family being miseducated and not understanding me and you know, just lacking a lot of love and support that I thought I thought would’ve loved and support me.
You know, voguing has definitely helped me through that because I always tell like, my people that like are inspired by me or wanna learn from me, they’re like, how do you do it?
Like, what do you go, what goes through your mind when you’re voguing and like, how do you get those, those moves and stuff like that?
And I tell ’em all the time, I’m like, however you’re feeling in that moment, whatever you’re feeling, let that out. Let me see that I, when I’m sitting on the panel and I’m watching somebody vogue, I wanna know your story.
I wanna know how you’re feeling that day. If you’re feeling happy, I wanna see that. If you’re feeling sad or angry, I wanna see that. And so I try to do the same when I vogue and it gets me through. And, you know, by the time I finish vogueing, I’m like, woo, I’m feeling nice. All right. That was, that was like a good therapy session for me.
So yeah, like definitely has helped me contain myself and keep myself together because I have a place where I can just let it out and just let, just let myself be free and just however I’m feeling at that moment, y’all gonna see it.
Iman: Can you repeat the question please?
Imara: Your art, like how your art’s been, one of the things that’s like pulled you through in life. And so what’s your relationship to it? Do you recognize it as sort of a lifeline that both helped you preserve who you were and then also helped you become who you are?
Iman: Well, yes. So in the documentary, I talk about being introduced to music as early as the fourth grade. I also have family members who were Grammy nominated, Grammy awarded, but having no closeness to them because they were always in the road. I didn’t necessarily see how close music was actually in my family until I began to do it myself. And it was always an expression for me, but it, it was very personal.
And I talk about this all the time. I think that as it relates to artistry, regardless of the creative medium, I think that artists and I, and I’m reiterating this or regurgitating this from an individual, her name is April Spearman. You all don’t know who this is, but when I was in high school in the 10th grade, she was my best friend’s mom. And her husband was one of the, originally the original Alvin Ailey dance members who had eventually passed away, I believe like AIDS complications or something, something of the sort.
She was also the first person to introduce me to Octavia Saint Laurent before I even transitioned or knew what ballroom was. But I saw Octavia, I was like, wow, this is a very boisterous, beautiful woman. She told me that all artists are tormented souls. And the way I interpreted that was that we Digest the world around us and in a way that we recycle it and, and revitalize our experience, we turn whatever we experienced into our creative medium.
So everything that I have been through in life, I have now regurgitated it in the form of music or in the form of, you know, and which is why I also say that a lot of artists need to be nomadic. We need to move, we need to experience things.
New York will not be my last stop because I need to experience, it’s just like a little plant.
If if you have a plant here and you have a little pot, it’s gonna grow to maybe about right here. But then you have to put it into a bigger plant, a bigger pot so that it can grow taller. So I, I need to move and I need to, to experience things. And it, it doesn’t necessarily mean we always have to go through hardship, but it is something that we must always recognize that if you are an artist, your your place here is to reimagine the world that we live in.
Music for me has always been very personal. And why I say why I said to you on the podcast that rap maybe isn’t all of who I am at this moment is because rap for me was like I said in the documentary, the start or the, the, the regurgitation of my defiance in life at that time, my defiance of the classical world, the, the, the prim and proper, the ensemble. And it was the, my self-expression. But I was angry. So when people ask me to rap now, I’m like, well, right now I’m not very angry.
So I, I’m, I’m a little sad and I’m a little, I’m a, I’m now, I’m taking hormones. I’m a girl. I have soft
emotions. I have soft feelings. I’ve been in love numerous times and I’m like, and and, and I’m heartbreak. And, and so now I feel like a R&B Diva and I say all the time, like, my new genre of music is tr-nny trap soul. Don’t say that out loud, don’t say that out loud
Audience Member: I heard it’s good!
Iman: Yes! And and mind you, what you’ve heard is like, not even I wrote some new shit that you gonna gag b!tch, but yeah, I’m, I’m feeling soft. But I, I do think my knowledge of music, because I truly feel that my foundation, though it is classical music, it can take me anywhere. I can write country music, I can write alternative music, I can do R&B, I can do pop, I can do this because I have an understanding of music theory and composition.
I also still play instruments and, you know, want to incorporate the things that I’ve learned in my past life to this new world. But yeah, art, we could talk about this all day.
Imara: So yeah, it’s interesting you remind me of what Tony Morrison said once when someone was like, oh, what about like, you know, so-called writer’s block or whenever you can’t create anymore as an artist. And she said, that’s the moment you need to go sit down.
That’s the moment you need to learn something new. That’s the moment you need to go somewhere else because it means that it’s, you need to go here, learn, absorb in order to be able to create again that creation can’t only be about, it’s not only an outward activity, it is both an absorption and a release, right?
Yeah. Through that, which I think is, is what you just pointed to my last question for y’all. ’cause yes, we want to party time and then also allow for just maybe a couple of questions, but also wanna have enough time to like drink and eat to, to where you actually led us, which is what is the thing
that you all are all trying to bring into the world through your art and what you do.
You know, we named it artistic legacies and legacy is about what you leave behind and what you are hoping that other people pick up from the example of what you all are doing now, everybody here is mad young, so you have really long ways to go. But if you had to say it today, what would that be?
Jordyn: I think just like I said in my speech at the gala, it’s hope I, everything I do for BTFA, I think about someone like me growing up in a city like Jacksonville, Florida, never seeing trans people unless, the only time I remember seeing trans people growing up was when I was in CVS and there was someone checking us out and my mom was like, look at her throat. If you ever see a woman and she has that lump, that’s not a real woman. Be on the lookout. And that was all I knew about trans people. And then I came to New York and I realized that something was different about me, but I didn’t know anybody that was like me.
All I knew was Caitlyn Jenner was on TV and I was hearing about black trans women being murdered all the time. So I thought that there was like really nothing for me in life. And then I went to my first ball and I saw the most gorgeous woman I’ve ever seen.
I saw people screaming and cheering and rocking a whole fucking warehouse for them. And it brought tears to my eyes and I was like, I’m not about to cry ’cause this bitch is gonna read me like what’s going on. But to know that I can be someone who has an impact, that I can be someone who commands a stage, or that I can be someone who leaves a legacy.
I want other trans people, trans youth especially, to see that and know that that’s true for them too.
Kimiyah: Wow, that’s amazing, amazing For me, I get this question a lot as a trans woman being in spaces as like the, like the dance industry and stuff like that. They’re like, girl, like how do you feel being in these spaces with all these other girls?
And I’m like, at first I was very uncomfortable. I was very, very uncomfortable because it’s like, it’s just one of them like dysphorias that you have when you’re like in a space and it’s like you’re looking at the, all these other girls, you’re dancing with these, all these other girls and like you’re trying to like size them up, like you’re looking at the shoulders to see if they’re the same or like, hmm, they’re wearing like a leotard numbering one.
Do we look different? Are they gonna like notice or am I gonna get booked or anything like that. So when people ask me this question, I just tell them like, I wanna be able to, I wanna be able to create spaces, I wanna be able to create my seat and have my girls sitting at the table.
I don’t like, I really want to push other trans girls that are, that want to dance and that wanna sing and be singers and stuff like that too. Like really go out there and really do do what you wanna do, despite what anybody’s gonna say, despite how you’re uncomfortable, you’re gonna make people feel in room or how uncomfortable you feel.
I feel like if you feel uncomfortable then you’re doing a damn, you’re you’re doing a thing. And that’s how I felt being in a lot of these dancing spaces.
So, you know, I definitely tell them like, I wanna be able to create spaces for my girls to come in and have a place to dance or have a place to sing and, you know, show up their talent without being judged, without being, you know, you know, talked about and stuff like that.
So I, from, for right now, I wanna be able to stand in the gap for them. I wanna be able to be the face of that. I wanna be able to go to these dance classes and stand in the front and be like, yes, I’m trans if you know it or not, whatever, but I’m gonna make sure that I’m gonna be in here.
I wanna be the one to dance with Doja Cat. I wanna be the one to
dance with Chris Brown. I wanna be the person to break those barriers so that my girls can go out there or my guys could go out there and be them and do what they wanna do without any judgment or anything. Yeah.
Imara: I mean just like even picking up on what you said and what you said Iman earlier, which is I wonder how many, I wonder how many black trans kids sneak and watch HBO Max’s legendary and are using what they see in you to continue to allow them to survive.
Kimiyah: I really hope, I really hope they are because it’s, it’s a, it’s a lot, it’s something that I really had to like really, I I I, I was devastated and I, I feel like I’ve never, people have told me things and made me feel some type of way and I’d be like, I’m strong, I could get through it.
I’m not scared of nobody. But then when you get into those places, I’m telling you baby, them people are cut there and I had to just be that.
Imara: You mean mainstream? Is that what you, you’re talking about? Like when you say “those people”
Kimiyah: Yeah, like anybody in the industry period. Like anybody in industry, regardless of even, even even in the legendary spaces, like the producers and like the camera people, like all those people, like some of them were definitely like uncomfortable with, with with people like me being there, you know.
So, you know, I, I get into those rooms and I’m like, I know you feel uncomfortable and I want you to feel uncomfortable because at the end of the day, I want you to respect me and I want you to gimme the same respect that you’re giving everybody else in here. So yeah.
Iman: For you, what is the thing that you hope that you are creating and leaving behind for the future through what you do and who you are?
Iman: Authenticity. I think that when we go to these networks and we allow ourselves to be used to, for whatever, for whatever benefit that they have, you know, whatever story that they want to tell, oftentimes, you know, we are given this impression that every, oh, we’re doing it for the right reasons or we’re doing this for this, and then the finished product comes out and you’re like, wait a minute, this is not what we agree on.
And then beyond that, I mean, ’cause we can go, I mean for those of you who don’t know, we can go back to even Pose, I mean not Pose, excuse me, Paris is Burning and we can look and, and, and when you speak just about our community and how we were put in the paper as, as wayward citizens and prostitutes and all these different things and how it was sold to them that this was gonna be such a life-changing experience and how brave the women in our community had to be at that time to out themselves as trans, to be in a movie at that time and, and, and be in the paper. Auntie Extravaganza was like, her face was in the paper and all these different things.
And then at the end of it, most of us died penniless. Most of us died penniless, most of us died. Sylvia Rivera died penniless. And you know, how many times did we share our stories
to these people who said that they were gonna do something for us?
For me, my music is me telling my own story. Also in my life, I want to have a paper trail.
For those of you who don’t know, I also have coined and created a brand called Kunt Kollections, which is basically a, a love letter to the house in ballroom community.
From my perspective, I use VHS film cameras and all these things with a focus really on our chosen family. But beyond that, I’ve just gotten into the habit now of just taking pictures,
not only of just me, but of my, of my community.
And the reason why I’ve been doing this, and if I could be very frank and transparent with you all is similar to what Jordan said in her documentary, that the number 35 had always come to her head.
You know, in thinking about our lifespan, I also think about the things that plague the black community. Things like dementia, things like Alzheimer’s, things like heart disease and all these things that, that, that reduce our mortality rate by so many years as opposed to other racial counterparts or whatever the case may be. And I think to myself, how I can cut corners.
So music for me is almost like, is a way to check a box. So if by chance I go blind, I can hear, if by chance I don’t remember, I can see a picture if by chance I can’t, you know, there’s, there’s something in my life that is disabled in my, in my, in my thought process.
And I don’t know if this makes sense to anybody, but I’m like, I’m trying to equip myself with all the tools that I need to get older because this, like lately I’ve been thinking about age and I’m like, yo, like nobody really wants to die. But I also think to myself like, what does getting older look like for a black trans woman?
What does it look like if I don’t have community? What does it look like? And I’m, I’m just trying
to arm myself with all of these resources to, to grow old comfortably. So that’s really my first priority. And then when you talk about legacy, can we get to a certain age where I even feel like I’m ready to let all of this go before I start talking about what I’m gonna leave behind?
Yeah. But what I want to, what I, what I would like to leave behind is I guess all of the, the information and knowledge that I’ve collected along the way. And I think that it is truly our jobs as human beings to lead one another to that point of transition into the afterlife, whatever that is.
That is why our parents are here. That is why we are here for the younger generation because we, and that’s why the younger generation is here for us because they will lead us to that next point.
So, you know, I hope to do that for my elders as well. Yeah, I have a lot to say about this, so I don’t think we have time, but yeah.
Audience Member: Saved my life.
Iman: Shut up B. Hawk Mind you, that’s my birthday
twin. We have the same birthday
Imara: Who has the same birthday?
Iman: Me and B. Hawk
B. Hawk: That mouth, that notorious mouth.
Imara: Thank you all so much. Thank you. Thank you for your life. Thank you for your bravery.
Thank you for your insights. Thank you for your power.
I think this just reminds me of something that Yaari Jones said when I was talking to her long time ago, like long time ago. Five five, probably five years ago.
And she just said, people need to listen to us.
And I said, oh, you mean about trans stuff?
And she said no, about everything.
And I think that what you all have given in like in the wisdom and the beauty of what you’ve said is why people need to listen to us about everything. So just thank you all so much, so grateful for y’all.
For more Black trans-affirming content, watch American Problems, Trans Solutions.
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